Saturday May 18, 2019

Psalm 12:5 “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the Lord; “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”

This morning was wonderful and peaceful in so many ways. Jeff and I got up and had breakfast just the two of us since he had to be at the field for the tournament early. I dropped him off at the field and then headed back to the hotel to take the kids to their breakfast and then to the pool (they swam and I did yoga). The kids really were awesome this morning and it was the first time I felt that I was able to relax since we left Brasov. We had a less than peaceful drive to Bucharest and then trying to navigate this new place with fast and aggressive drivers, relaxation was not the feeling that comes to mind. But this morning, the kids played and got along with each other, they were even aware and respectful of the gentleman swimming laps in the pool without my intervention; it was beautiful. I enjoyed my yoga vitality practice. Unfortunately, the peace was fleeting, but here are some pictures of the blissful parts.

I finished my yoga and the kids were done swimming at almost the exact same time, which I thought was perfect. I didn’t even have to drag them out of the pool. We got upstairs and I shooed two of the kids into the showers so we could go and watch Jeff’s final game. But our lack of conditioner caused a bit of drama, so I hurried to the store for some better hair products and all was well. Everyone got cleaned and fed with the leftovers from last night (only a mild tantrum about not wanting their leftovers, but that was side-stepped nicely with the help of Lucia). I felt like at any moment a bomb was going to go off right next to me, but it didn’t. We got to enjoy one of Jeff’s games and then learned that he still had one more. The kids were never going to make it, so I drove them back to the hotel to watch TV while I went back to the field to watch the final game (3 total round trips from the hotel to the field).

All this driving back and forth is like a double-edged sword. I am reminded of my dislike for big cities with lots of traffic but I am loving driving a manual transmission. I drove a stick for so long and it makes driving so much more enjoyable. I made it back to the field in time for his last game of the day. I will admit I was not 100% present in the moment. As I was waiting for the game to start and the teams to warm-up I decided to get a bit of studying/reading done, but I had a hard time putting it down when the game did start. I would go back and forth between reading and watching the game, but it was very relaxing to do this without any kids around interrupting me. After the game, we headed home and then out to dinner.

We ate at Hanu’ lui Manuc, which served traditional Romanian food in an open-air courtyard. The ambiance was so fun, but the company of my children was not the greatest. They were tired and it was getting late (we didn’t get there until 7:00 and by the time we finally were able to pay and leave it was close to 9:30).

I really have no idea how to relate this scripture to today, so I am not going to try. What I will say is that Bucharest is a really beautiful city, rich in history, plentiful parks and green space, and lots to see and do, but I realized today that this is not what I love about traveling. I love meeting the people and living amongst them. I also know, with absolute certainty, that I am not relaxed in a big city. We have only been gone for 24 hours and I am already missing Brasov; it is so quite and calm in comparison to Bucharest. I don’t like feeling this stressed and overwhelmed with the sheer number of people crammed into such a confined space. So again, God has provided me with a wonderful lesson, I don’t need to see the beautiful touristy sights around the world, actually I am rarely happy and relaxed in these environments, but rather the best part about our travels is living and becoming part of these communities; it is the people not the places that I want to experience.

Saturday May 11, 2019

Deuteronomy 12:10 “When you cross over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is allotting to you, and when he gives you rest from your enemies all around so that you live in safety

God blessed us with a beautiful day today and allowed us to enjoy Brasov by seeing some of the historical sights, though we were a man down. Anjali asked to stay home and enjoy some alone time and peace and quiet while the rest of headed out on the town. We made our way to the White and Black Tower, which were part of the original fortress of the city. While we couldn’t go inside the buildings, the views were stunning and it was so refreshing to be doing some light hiking and being out in nature.

Time almost seemed to stand still for me. This was such a peaceful afternoon and I think it was because this was the first day in a while that we haven’t had rain so we actually got to enjoy being outside. While I don’t feel like I have any enemies per se, I think God gave me rest from myself today. None of my regular worries or concerns even crossed my mind, and I was able to spend my afternoon in the moment. It was wonderful.

I seem to be my own worst enemy because I tend to dwell and focus on a certain thing, unable to see beyond the immediate problem. I’ll give you an example…I have committed to acquiring my license to practice Social Work at a Masters Level. This of course requires taking a board exam, to which I have no materials with me to study because they are all boxed up in Madison. I of course got very worried and couldn’t keep my mind focused on the moment. My focus on my lack of resources to prepare for this exam even prevented me from completing my yoga practice today because I was so focused on my lack of resources, I began searching the internet for things to help with this “problem”, instead of completing my practice. Thankfully, Jeff reminds me to be in the moment and to not let these things overwhelm me. I do try, and sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t.

After a nice afternoon outside and then a disrupted yoga practice, Jeff and I put the kids to bed and headed out for our anniversary celebration. As usual, we had a wonderful time. It felt like we were on a date, which we were, and it was great. We had a pre-dinner drink, dinner, and then headed to the local piano bar for some live jazz music. It ended up being a late night, but absolutely worth it. We enjoyed a fabulous anniversary celebration in Braşov , Romania. (I never imagined that sentence would ever come out of my mouth–honestly, I didn’t even know that Braşov existed until we were called on this mission.)

I am so thankful that God has called us on this mission and He has put us here in Braşov. We took the day to enjoy the land that God has allotted to us and I am glad that God gave me some reprieve from myself (my own worst enemy).

Saturday March 9, 2019

Philippians 2:4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 

Flashback – Friday night I am getting ready to head off for bed.  Sara and I discuss the plan for Saturday and I express MY (hint: foreshadowing) desire to get up, get some breakfast for the kids at the local bakery, head to the park in the city square, take everyone out to lunch, maybe do some hiking, and then do a nice dinner out.  Basically just enjoy our first Saturday in Brasov with no responsibilities and to get to really savor the people, the city, and the food.  Sara likes this idea and we agree to proceed, after sleeping of course.

Back to real time now – nope, my plans will not happen.  To be sure, I did get up and Luci and I took a nice stroll down Strada Lungi to look into the bakery.  It was not yet open so we continued on a ways and got to check out some other sights before we made the u-turn back.  As usual Luci was her chipper self.  Her energy is infectious and hard to match but worth the effort.  We got back to the shop only to find the closed sign still hung in the door despite it being after 8.  I encouraged Luci to give the door a try, after all who says no to an adorable 6 year old, and sure enough the proprietor came hurriedly over to ensure entry.

As has been the case all along here we were greeted first with Romanian.  I smiled and said “Good Morning” as clear as possible and then asked if she spoke English.  Alina, as it turns out, did.  She immediately took a liking to Lucia as we ordered our breakfast rations of chocolate and vanilla cakes, an eclair, and a cream cheese danish.  Not exactly the breakfast I had in mind but I thought the kids wouldn’t mind having dessert for breakfast.  A few double espressos for Sara and me and then we were off for home.

Breakfast went as planned though I was a little surprised at the lack of enthusiasm over having dessert.  Are my children really becoming that responsible that they were disappointed to not get yogurt and muesli?  Oh well, we ate up and then I headed into the other room to await our departure for fun and frolic in Brasov.

Then it happened.  My children looked at their own interests and not the interests of others, namely me and Sara.  Sara had asked them to turn off their tablets and to get ready to head out.  This happened on four occasions and each time I could hear her getting more and more aggravated as the kids continued to ignore her request and to play.  Finally she became irate at their lack of listening and respect and grounded them for the day to their rooms.  After a very upsetting Friday they were once again being disrespectful and not listening.  This punishment was swift and significant.  And it also meant no more park time, leisurely lunch, and no delicious meal out.

As I sit here typing this, after we had a very nice homemade meal (Mexican food by the way, or at least a Romanian approximation), I realize that I put myself before them this morning.  My plan was to take everyone out for a nice day to play etc but I realize that I never asked them if that is what they needed.  All along Sara and I have tried to remind our kids that our service is to provide others what they need, not what we want to give them.  As such, I realize that my plan for the day may have been nice in my opinion, but may not have been what the kids wanted or needed.  Moreover, I put Sara in a terrible spot having to enforce my desires.  In retrospect I wanted to go out as much or more than I thought the kids would.  I should have taken the time to ask them if that would work for them and perhaps, if it wasn’t, a compromise could have been met to ensure we all got what we needed for the day.  Instead we had undue suffering, frustration, and a missed opportunity.

My hope is tomorrow that I will awake reminded that I want to put the interests of others first but more importantly to ask them what those interests are.  In the end I might have learned that what my kids really wanted and needed all along was not a nice meal out but rather just a heartfelt attempt at Mexican cuisine.

Friday January 25, 2019

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.

Even though goodbyes are becoming part of our life now, they don’t get any easier. We got up early and showered (actually I took a bucket shower because there was no water pressure), got the kids up and ready, finished the last bit of packing, and headed downstairs for our last breakfast on the mission. Clifton led a wonderful prayer and all these goodbyes brought tears to my eyes and overwhelmed my heart with a mixture of joy and sadness. Anjali was able to hand out her friendship bracelets we made last night and we all were bombarded with hugs and friendship bracelets from everyone.

The mission kids had school today and I am so grateful they did because I don’t know how we would have ever gotten out of there. They all leave for school at 7:45, right when our car pulled up. We did the final goodbye hugs and the older kids headed off to school. The little ones were still there because they don’t start until 9:00, so I was finally able to capture Ruhani’s infectious laugh on video. Check it out on my Instagram page @sarassimplelife. As we drove away from our home over the last 2 months, we were comforted by letters and cards made by the kids. It was such a wonderful gift from them and we read some during our drive.

After a group prayer we piled in the car before the tears could begin and we were off of our 375 km/12 hour trip to Delhi. This drive was similar to every other drive we have done in India, complete with crazy driving and weird traffic situations. At one point, as we neared the suburbs of Delhi we encountered some construction in which we went from 3 designated lanes (which actually means 5-6 lanes of cars) down to one designated lane (which meant 2-3 lanes of cars). This experience was so crazy. I have never felt so trapped while in a car as I did then. I don’t think we were even able to open the car doors to get out, not that we would, but there were cars and motorbikes everywhere!

But we finally made it to our hotel near the airport. We checked in and dropped our luggage off in the room before heading to dinner. The food here was good, but everything we ate reminded us of our Banbasa home we just left. Nothing tasted nearly as good,probably because we were really missing the company.j

I was really not feeling well at all, the air quality here in Delhi was worse than in Banbasa and I was extremely grateful that Aunty Rosie was kind enough to give me a couple masks to wear; they helped a ton. Pretty much after dinner I headed to bed. We had a long day ahead of us, since our flight was not until 9:45 pm tomorrow night. But I will say that we made the right decision to drive to Delhi today rather than tomorrow on Republic Day. The hotel was crazy busy and so were the roads, tomorrow would be so much worse.

Friday January 18, 2019

Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.

Today, we had another bad day with Anjali. Her emotional state is like a light switch, she is either in a really good mood or a really bad one; there is no in between and I just can’t figure out why. I have really started to pray and ask for help/guidance from God. Jeff is grasping at straws and he reached the end of his line today. I am not even sure what specifically set her off, but it had something to do with her doing her schoolwork in bed, which we have consistently made it clear that was not okay. She completely lost it and Jeff finally decided that either she and him were going back to Madison or we all were. Either way, we needed to get her some extra help because she was refusing help from us. While she finally expressed some of her feelings in a note to Jeff and I, we are still right back where we started–fighting with her about every other day about something. Right as Jeff was about to purchase tickets (he had the payment screen up on the computer and his credit card out ready to go), God intervened.

I happened to pull up the symptoms of sleep deprivation in teens. Since we started this trip, and even before we left, Anjali had been fighting us on going to bed by 8 pm and has been lobbying to stay up later and later. As I read through the symptoms, every one of them seemed to fit: loss of appetite, angry, aggressive, moody, inability to focus, difficulty falling/staying asleep, sad/depressed, isolated/loneliness, difficulty waking up, etc. By this time Anjali had calmed down enough to beg Jeff not to purchase the tickets because she really didn’t want to go back, but rather she wanted to continue with the trip. Honestly, Jeff didn’t seem to care that she wanted to stay, he was done trying to do this on our own and he had made up his mind that we were going back to the States to get some help. As I read these symptoms out loud, we all just looked at each other and I think at that moment, Jeff was willing to stick it out for a little bit longer, as long as Anjali was willing to work with us on getting more sleep. Up to this point, we have been lucky to get her about 8-9 hours of sleep when she is needing more like 10-11 hours every day. Anjali was willing to try this out and she agreed that we were in charge of making this happen. Jeff agreed that we could try this out to see the outcome and how committed Anjali was to seeing if this was the solution we were seeking all along.

This meant that from now on, Jeff and I would be putting the kids to bed before we leave for dinner and then we would be home be 8:15 at the latest so that we could sit in the room with Anjali and make sure that she was asleep by 9 pm. If she was asleep by 9 pm, she would then be sure to get at least 10 hours of sleep. This weekend would be a good indication of whether this was really the solution. Anjali was made very aware by Jeff that he was willing to give this a try, but that he was also very ready to pack up and go home should either this not work and/or she wasn’t putting in the necessary effort. This whole morning was exhausting and we also missed out of coffee with Sonia and Malcolm, but thankfully they were very understanding when I showed up about an hour late and explained that we were dealing with some family issues. We rescheduled for Sunday after church.

Today, I walked into town with Cathy and Truy today to pick up my Saree and suits, and Jeff’s new tailored shirt. Unfortunately my Saree was not ready, and though my suits and Jeff’s shirt were ready I was not able to pick them up because there was no money in any of the ATM’s in Banbasa. I tried 5 different banks and ATM’s to no avail–Banbasa is absolutely devoid of any money. We are down to our last couple hundred Rupees (which isn’t much), so I picked up a few necessary items we needed and headed home.

We were told that they usually reload the ATM’s after 6 pm, so just after sending the kids to dinner, Jeff and I walked into town to see if we could get any, but still the ATM’s are completely empty. We aren’t too worried because we still have a week before we leave, but it is a little disconcerting that we have money that we can’t access.

On our walk into town we were both lamenting at how much we are going to miss the mission and how difficult it is going to be to leave, just as it has been at the last 2 places, but there is a distinct difference with this place. The wonderful people on this mission have welcomed us with open arms and we very much feel connected and forever a part of this family. I am afraid that there will always be a piece of my heart here in Banbasa long after we leave.

We got home right as the kids were finishing their dinner, so we started the process of showers for the kids before our dinner at 7 pm at the Strong House. As we were waiting for David to finish his shower, Anjali gave me a beautiful tattoo with her new pens she got for Christmas.

I am amazed at the simple things that we find ourselves missing from home. Tonight, after dinner Lucia was commenting on how much she missed a bath. So after I washed her up, she asked if she could climb into the washing bucket to take a bath. I didn’t think she would fit, but she sure did prove me wrong–I even brushed her teeth while she was taking a bath! I couldn’t help but snap a few pictures because she looked completely uncomfortable, but boy was she happy in her make-shift bathtub.

After dinner tonight, Jeff and I made it back to the apartment by 8:15 pm and I sat with Anjali giving her back scratches and laying with her until she was asleep by 8:45 pm. I sure do hope this works. I really don’t feel that we are meant to go home just yet. I feel like He has so much more in store for our family, but then again, maybe this is part of our plan. There is really not much I can do at this point, but walk this path and see where it leads.

As I laid in bed I started reading a new book I found online called The Love Dare: For Parents. This book was written to be a challenge to be a more compassionate parent to our children. I guess I want to make sure that I am doing part by making sure I am showing my children how much I love them every day.

Thursday December 27, 2018

Proverbs 29:11 A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back.

After breakfast this morning I found my way to the kitchen to help clean the dishes. I really enjoyed my time with the girls. They have an incredible system and it is amazing to see how they are able to do the dishes for 80 people in a matter of 30 minutes–they truly have this down to a science.

I had a very interesting morning and it could not be any more fitting that this scripture verse came up today. A little history for you…

Before we left on this journey we had to get several immunizations given all the various places we were headed. I spoke with our insurance company multiple times during that year leading up to our departure regarding what immunizations were covered and finding an in-network provider (this proved more difficult than I expected). At first we thought that we were going to have to fly back to Phoenix, AZ (we lived in Madison, WI) to get our immunizations done because our insurance was based there, but the doctors in Phoenix did not have access to the Yellow Fever vaccine. It all worked out and we found a physician in Madison that was able to administer all our vaccines and was an in-network provider. Though we had several other problems and road blocks, by the time we had our last round of shots in June, all seemed to be worked out with the insurance.

Fast forward to about a week ago, and I got a message from our friend checking our mail that I had a bill for each of the kids from the University of Wisconsin for almost $2000 each. Come to find out, the insurance company denied both rounds of the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine for all three children (even though they approved them for Jeff and I). It is important to note that the cost for each injection is $2000, and my three kids all had the 2 doses necessary. Some quick math, and a bit of panic set in; that is a lot of money that we are being charged unnecessarily. After a few emails back and forth with our Care Manager, I was advised to call customer service, but that it was likely that I would have to send in an appeal. So this was my day today, preparing an appeal packet for the three children so I could respectfully request that they cover these charges. Since the time difference between India and Phoenix is 12.5 hours, I won’t be able to call them until later this evening, so I decided to get a head start on the paperwork.

This was such a frustrating task and it was really difficult to not get angry. As I read through our plan, this service is covered at 100% as long we are seen by an in-network provider which they were; so why are we getting the bill? And just to make matters even worse, UW (the clinic were we had the shots done) has been fighting with our insurance over this for about 6 months now to no avail, which means that our bills are already in pre-collections. They didn’t even give us a chance to remedy this. It was like they sent us the bill and then they were wanting to turn us over to collections. Now I am sure that is not how it actually happened, but that is what it seems like here. I can’t take care of these issues as quickly as I could back home and that is beyond frustrating.

I finished all of the paperwork by 4 pm tea time and closed everything down until I had to call the insurance company tonight after dinner. I have to say trying to make this kind of call on an internet based line is not easy when the internet goes in an out. I drop the call several times and had to wait on hold while I got reconnected to the person with whom I was previously speaking. All in all, I was on the phone for an hour to learn that the representative wanted me to call him back tomorrow so he could research the situation further. I really just wanted this to be over and done, but I had to wait another day to get any answers. He didn’t even know if I should send an appeal. I got nowhere. Tomorrow is another day and hopefully I can get some answers.

After a day like today, I can fully appreciate the scripture because anger only makes matters worse and puts the other person on the defensive. Up to this point I have been able to keep my frustrations to myself (and Jeff), I have not yet lashed out at the insurance representative, though that is not an easy task. I am so frustrated and the lack of response or answer does make me very angry that I am having to spend my time working on this, when there are other things that I could be doing to help. But this is what I need to be doing and I know that God will help me through this, just as He always has.

Wednesday December 19, 2018

John 6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

This scripture passage is a testament to when Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand and just before this scripture Jesus asked Philip where they could buy enough food to feed the people that followed him. I love this passage because it speaks to how Jesus knows all of us; He knows the answer to all of our questions, concerns, fears, joys, etc. Jesus is faced with a following of about five thousand people who are needing to be fed and all he has are 5 loaves of barley bread and 2 fish, not nearly enough to feed five thousand people, and yet He does. He knows that will be enough (they even have 12 baskets of leftovers). When Jesus asked Philip this question He was testing his faith and I want to believe that in this situation, I will have faith. Faith that God has the ability to provide for my needs and the needs of my family. That He is able to make something out of nothing and to spread His grace to anyone who is open to receive it.

Today was no different. I am so grateful to have been here on the mission today. There was so much joy here that there is no denying that God was hard at work here on this mission. A group of gentlemen from a local power company came by with a car load of clothing for these wonderful kids. It was a lot of fun to see so many happy faces as they were able to get new clothes…Christmas came a bit early!

Danny showing off his new, old-school, Arsenal jacket!

The kids had a lot of fun (and so did the adults), as they were able to go through these mounds of clothes. And the joy and excitement in the air was accompanied with some wonderful news we heard just before these gentlemen arrived. Fun was had by all, and I had no idea that this was just the beginning.

Now I will share with you the good news we heard shortly before the clothes arrived. A bit of mission history, about 14 years ago there was a split on the board of directors and there has been a legal court case in litigation since that time (the India court system is not known for its efficiency)! However, today, one of the opposing families actually joined together with the current board and the court case ended. It was truly a gift of peace for the mission and there was a huge celebration this evening. We started with music, dancing, and fireworks as the legal team arrived at the mission and that was followed up with a DJ in front of the worship space with more dancing and music well into the night. This was truly evident of God’s mighty power in this world and His ability to make anything possible, whether it is feeding the thousands or joining previous foes together and resolving a long fight; anything is possible with God. What a fun and joyous night it was.

Praise God for all His great and wonderful acts of love!